Everyone’s a winner when working with not-for-profits

Mustard’s Alicia Welbourne (Research Manager) discusses the importance of market research for not-for-profits and how they can get the most from their insight.

One of the great things about working with not-for-profit organisations is that everyone benefits from the project, there’s a full circle of benefits that run from the research agency conducting the research through to the members of the public who use the organisation’s services. As a researcher it’s always a lovely thought to know that the work that you’re doing is really making a positive difference to the lives of people in the community.

However, not-for-profits can sometimes come under criticism for spending on research and consultation. There’s long been a myth that charities and not-for-profits should spend 100% of their income on the services which they provide. What many people fail to realise is that it’s essential for these organisations to carry out research in the same way it is for any organisation, because it allows them to communicate with maximum effectiveness, streamline their services and ensure that they are in fact meeting the needs of their target populations.

Everyone’s a winner when working with not-for-profits

Over the last few years I’ve been lucky enough to work with a wide array of not-for-profit organisations including NHS Trusts, Housing Associations and large national charities. One of the key insights I’ve taken away from those projects is how extremely valuable research can be to developing their services, and that insight can actually save them money from progressing with activities and services which they think people need but as it turns out they don’t!

With that in mind I’ve put together a list of tips, suggestions and insights that I’ve picked up over my experience in this sector:

  1. Be creative

Budgets are likely to be tight when working with not-for-profits but creative thinking and innovative methodologies can go a long way in helping to make the most out of any brief and any budget. Utilise whatever insight the organisation already has at their disposal before deciding on a methodology for fieldwork. It’s possible that some of the answers you’re looking for are already in situ just waiting to be explored, in databases, survey data or open-source data! Our new analytics business – Honeycomb – has been established precisely to do just this, helping clients to get more from what they already have.

We recently completed a large piece of work with a national charity where we filmed focus group sessions and used some of the budget to produce an engaging film to demonstrate how the charity was interacting with its users to ensure they delivered maximum impact. This film is not only a valuable tool for them to use to show the impact of their efforts with the community, but can also be used as a supportive document for fundraising bids.

  1. Keep the personal touch

Technology isn’t always the answer – there’s a general assumption that to streamline a service means to build in more technology and make things more automated but a really important thing I’ve taken away from my experience is that people want a human connection. This is particularly prevalent for not-for-profits who are typically there to support members of the public with their services, if the organisation becomes a faceless drone, they lose the personal connection with those who most need it.

  1. Don’t make assumptions

Don’t assume that all users have the same needs and wants because they use the same support services. No market is homogenous. In a recent survey of 1,566 non-profit leaders a whopping 76% admitted that their messaging only resonated with their target audience “some of the time” or “not at all”. Segmentation research can therefore be critical to an organisation in defining their multiple target audiences and delivering messages which are going to appeal to them.

I worked on a large research piece for an innovative health care agency who had assumed that their target audience was “all pharmacists” but discovered through the insights that actually the life of an independent pharmacist was completely unrelated to that of a pharmacist working in a chain, and the way in which the agency approaches the two needed to be completely different!

  1. Clarity is key

Make a clear distinction between activities and impact. Investing time to pull out data on the impact the organisation is having can be extremely useful in providing a narrative for spending and can encourage further sponsorship and fundraising. Data should also be presented in a way which is accessible and easily understood by those outside of the organisation. It’s easy to get caught up in jargon – but remember the general public are not privy to these insights and jargon will not sway them to donate!

If you’re a non-for-profit organisation or have worked with any and want to share some of the things you’ve learnt and the tips you’ve picked up along the way, drop us a line – we’d love to hear from you!